The Copenhagen Way part four: How the Grand Départ kicked off Denmark’s yellow summer


The staging of this year’s Grand Départ in Denmark, coupled with Jonas Vingegaard’s sensational victory in the Tour de France, was part of a fairytale summer for the homeland of Hans Christian Andersen.

From The Little Mermaid to the Champs Élysées, the legacy of the 2022 Tour de France will forever be intertwined with the Nordic nation, which hosted the opening three stages of this year’s race from 1st until 3rd July. When the world’s showpiece cycling race finally arrived in the world’s most cycling–friendly city, it was clear from the outset that this would be a summer to remember for all Copenhageners, Danes and fans of the sport.

“I think all Danes following the Tour dreamed of a Danish champion this year, so to see Vingegaard winning was a dream come true,” says Sophie Haestorp Andersen, Lord Mayor of Copenhagen.

“The Grand Départ was a success from start to finish, but to have a Danish champion made this year’s Tour de France historic. I will never forget seeing thousands of Danes celebrating Jonas in Copenhagen.”

In Tivoli Gardens, the 20-acre amusement park nestled within Copenhagen’s centre which once gave inspiration to Walt Disney for Disneyland, the Tour de France’s team presentation ceremony on 29th June offered a glimpse into what was to come.

The world’s third-oldest amusement park is typically an exhibition of tranquility and hygge – the Danish term for contentment and wellness. Featuring rollercoaster rides, restaurants and the palatial Nimb Hotel backing onto a lake, Tivoli’s opulent attractions draw an estimated four million tourists annually.

At the team presentation, however, the park was near unrecognisable. Taken over by a yellow tide of fanfare, packed to the brim with cycling fanatics and raucous with applause, Tivoli’s grand welcoming ceremony provided a timely reminder of why the Tour de France had come to Denmark.

Blown away by the warm reception as he took to the stage, Tour de France general director Christian Prudhomme jokingly told the crowd: “I give you the first yellow jersey of the 2022 Tour.”

Reflecting on the scenes at Tivoli, Lars Vallentin Christensen, senior manager of events at Wonderful Copenhagen, tells SportsPro: “We couldn’t have fit ten more people in there.

“We talked to some of the riders afterwards who said that they had never experienced anything like it. They felt the love from the Copenhageners and from the tourists.”

Vallentin Christensen says that every detail of the ceremony had been carefully mapped out by race organiser the Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) and local coordinators in Copenhagen. One by one, each of the 22 teams made their way over the Lille Langebro pedestrian bridge before peddling down Vester Voldgade and into the gardens.

Not for the last time this summer, Vingegaard would stand before a huge crowd in the Danish capital as it chanted his name when welcoming Team Jumbo Visma. His triumph weeks later on 24th July would top off a historic summer that captured the imagination of Danes throughout the country.

Indeed, one third of Denmark’s population attended the first three stages of this year’s Tour de France, according to the ASO, with two million spectators paving the streets and roadsides during the opening rounds of the event. Danish television channel TV2 also recorded an average market share of 78 per cent during the first three stages.

“The Grand Départ more than exceeded our expectations,” Haestorp Andersen states. “It was truly amazing to see Danes and Copenhageners celebrating across the whole country, and it certainly became a yellow summer. The Grand Départ was more than we could have hoped for.”

A close collaboration

Originally on the calendar for 2021, Copenhagen’s Grand Départ was hit by a one-year delay due to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, as Vallentin Christensen explains, the ASO maintained a strong relationship with event organisers in Denmark despite the postponement.

“From the very beginning, we had a very constructive and creative cooperation with the ASO on preparing for the Grand Départ,” he tells SportsPro.

In his view, the success of the 2022 Grand Départ – which was the northernmost edition of the event’s opening stage in the Tour’s 109-year history – may influence future editions of the race.

“I think we’ve given inspiration to ASO and I think if you look at the future Grand Départs, they will take some of the things we managed to do in Copenhagen,” he suggests.

Alongside its status as a global leader in sustainability and inclusivity, Copenhagen’s cycling culture was one of the main draws for the ASO to bring the peloton to the Danish capital. Vallentin Christensen believes that culture of everyday cycling is something the race organiser hopes will be embraced elsewhere.

“I think that the main reason for us to get the Tour was due to our everyday cycling culture,” he says. “The ASO told us that they wanted to take part of that [cycling culture] to bring everyday cycling to France, especially Paris.

“Since we began to talk to the ASO, a lot of things have happened in Paris in terms of everyday cycling. I’m not saying that that’s just because of us, but it’s on the agenda of many great cities to be sustainable. And if you want to be a real sustainable city, you need more bikes in the streets.”

In addition to inspiring change elsewhere, the Grand Départ also allowed Copenhagen to engage with its own cycling-mad community and other visitors in attendance. To that end, members of the public were invited to ride along the same route the day after the event, allowing them to follow the tracks of the world’s greatest cyclists.

The motive behind this was clear: to show that the Grand Départ was an event for everyone.

“We arranged a lot of side events in Copenhagen to engage not only cycling fans, but also Copenhageners, families and visitors,” Haestorp Andersen notes.

“They became a great success, and it is something we can use in coming events. Especially the Tour de Copenhagen, where we sought to extend the Grand Départ for one more day by giving all Copenhageners the chance to try out the Tour stage for themselves.”

An inclusive community

On and off the track, inclusivity and gender equality are values deeply embedded within the identity of Copenhagen and Denmark.

As part of its efforts to bring more women’s sports events to its shores, the country recently tabled a bid to host the 2025 Uefa Women’s European Championship alongside Sweden, Norway and Finland, an event that would serve to strengthen its status as one of the leading nations for women’s soccer.

In cycling, this summer’s inaugural Tour de France Femmes showed that women’s cycling is continuing to gain traction, with the event drawing an average of 2.25 million viewers per stage on France Télévisions, while 14 million tuned in to watch Eurosport’s multi-territory coverage.

Vallentin Christensen suggests that there could be opportunities to host ASO women’s events in the future.

“Since ASO have also increased their activities on the women’s cycling front, we could see some ASO women’s cycling events in Copenhagen in the years to come,” he reveals.

As well as the Grand Départ, Copenhagen also hosted the start of this year’s women’s Tour of Scandinavia on 9th August, which fittingly was also won by a Danish rider in Cecille Uttrup Ludwig.

“We are also in talks now with the organisers about bringing the Tour [of Scandinavia] back on a regular scale for Copenhagen and the greater Copenhagen area for the years to come,” Vallentin Christensen explains. “We have a focus on women’s events – not only cycling, but also sailing and we are also bidding for the Women’s Euro 2025.

“We are all about equal opportunities, so we should also host women’s events.”

Beyond the scenes of excitement that erupted across Copenhagen at the conclusion of this year’s Tour de France, with beers flowing and chants of ‘Vingegaard’ echoing throughout the city, Vallentin Christensen anticipates a legacy that will live long after the celebrations and hangovers subside.

“A part of the legacy will be how we brought people together,” he reflects.

“[There were] a lot of smaller communities along the route getting involved, and maybe they’ve never met their neighbour before, but now they know their neighbour due to the Grand Départ. So there’s a lot of social interaction and volunteering parts that’s very important.”

Vallentin Christensen is keen to acknowledge the part played by the 5,000 volunteers involved in delivering the Tour de France across Denmark, as well as the initiatives in the build-up to the event which inspired further engagement with the sport.

Leading up to the Grand Départ, children aged between three and 15 years old were offered the opportunity to participate in the BørneTour bike race, with the overarching aim of encouraging more youngsters to join cycling clubs across the country.

Meanwhile, in the hundred days building up to the race, the ASO and Copenhagen hosted around 200 separate community initiatives for all age groups. Activations ranged from education about the Tour de France and French history lessons in schools, to painting houses yellow and even the knitting of yellow jerseys.

“[In] all the different social projects, people got involved, that will be part of the legacy,” Vallentin Christensen reiterates.

For her part, Haestorp Andersen is hopeful that the Grand Départ might one day return to Copenhagen and confirms the city’s interest in further collaboration with the ASO in the years ahead. While handing over the baton to Bilbao for the next edition in 2023 might have been done with a heavy heart, cycling is still set to remain front and centre in the Danish capital.

“I wish we could do it all over again next year,” Haestorp Andersen admits. “The success of the event and of course Jonas Vingegaard’s victory have promoted our cycling culture even further.

“Hopefully, more kids will jump on the bicycle. And we will keep up our efforts to promote cycling as the green, healthy, and easiest way to get from A to B.”